Empowering Art: A Mother’s Journey with Autism and Art

Woman in front of artistic background
Betty Proctor, Entrepreneur, Artist, and Mother.

The story of Betty Proctor and her Obsessions Gift business in Tallahassee’s Railroad Square is a personal one. Betty created the business with her daughter, who is on the autism spectrum.  As the business grew, Betty added special art courses and projects that helped her daughter and others on the spectrum increase their communication skills.  One specific type of project uses a record, a golf tee, and a bunch of paint to create art and opportunity for people of all ages and skills.

Video edited by Alex Campbell, Produced by Freddie Hall.

Article by Suzanne Smith

“My favorite thing about spin art is watching the faces of people doing it. Because spin art is the messiest art we have.”

–Betty Proctor, Co-owner, Obsessions Gifts

The “spin art” that Obsessions Gifts co-owner Betty Proctor is talking about involves an old vinyl record, a golf tee, and a willingness to make a really big mess. “Their reaction to it is like *gasps* or either “Oh my goodness!” or “Wow!” or something like that. So it’s really cool seeing the actual paint fly off the record,” she says with a smile.

Unlike the t-shirt spin art of the 1980s, there are no machines that look like extra-large, high-speed record players involved.  In Proctor’s version, the artist adds the paint to a vinyl record, slips a golf tee through the spindle hole, and then turns the record sideways. The artist then uses their muscles to make the record spin as fast as possible. It’s a hands-on process, designed to connect the artist to the artwork.

A woman wearing safety goggles on her head smiiles as she looks down.
Betty Proctor works an art piece at Obsessions Gifts in Railroad Square. (WFSU)

“Some people just make designs like hearts or circles. Some people make lines.” Proctor told us. “One young lady did alternate colors like red and black and it turned out really, really nice.”

There are a variety of art experiences at Obsessions Gifts, which is located in Railroad Square. Spin art, acrylic pours, and splatter paint are just a few activities that people can do as individuals or groups. However, the real reason that Betty Proctor created this business and does this type of art is the real inspiration of this story.

A mother’s love and a gift for the future

Before she started Obsessions, Proctor had been a social worker. “I always wanted to work with teens because teens have my heart,” says Proctor.  “I always wanted to have something where teens could come, and they could just feel comfortable and just vibe.”

Proctor’s sister had first gotten her interested in art, but it was her daughter, Nijah, who had Proctor finally leaving the 9 to 5 world.  Nijah is on the autism spectrum and Proctor was concerned about her daughter’s job security as she became an adult.  When Nijah was getting ready to graduate high school, Proctor started to envision a different future for them both.  She says one night she had a dream.  “I saw myself where I owned a business,” says Proctor. “I was sitting at a desk and my daughter was standing up and I was kind of moving out of the way and she was taking my place.”  

Proctor and her daughter turned a hobby of making jewelry into a jewelry-making business that progressed into Obessions Gifts shop in 2017. One summer, a graduate student asked Betty and her daughter to help her work on a special project for her Ph.D. “She was doing a dissertation on the effects of autism and art for females,” says Proctor. “My daughter went to the art class, and she loved it. And her communication skills increased.”  Proctor was so impressed with the results in her daughter, that she permanently added the art classes and workshops to the business.  “A lot of the things that I do here is because of my daughter, or either the experience that I had with my daughter and I saw the effects of it.” 

Betty’s daughter, Nijah, creates art through a splatter paint method. Nijah is co-owner of Obessions Gifts and co-founder of MPAC with her mother. (Photos taken from video provided by Betty Proctor)

The addition of the art classes also expanded the duo’s work with the community. Together, Betty and Nijah started MPAC, which is a nonprofit that stands for “Motivating People through Arts and Crafts.”  Proctor explains the variety of activities provided by MPAC (pronounced by the Proctors as “M-Pac”), “We help persons on the autism spectrum and also with disabilities.  We provide art workshops. We also provide entrepreneurship opportunities as well as employment.”  Proctor is clear to point out that while MPAC does primarily serve people on the spectrum, it also works with those who are “neurodiverse, with disabilities, and neurotypical persons.”  Proctor says the overall goal is to create a supportive environment for everyone.  “We’ve had people to say to us, ‘This is our place. This is my time, this is my space where I can freely be creative and be who I want to be without judgment.’ And so that’s what we want to create in here. We want to create a vibe where people can feel comfortable and also can express themselves without judgment.”

“You just do what you feel.”

-Betty Proctor

The Creative Process without Judgement

It is that nonjudgement atmosphere that helped create Proctor’s self-declared messiest and, possibly, the most fun Obsessions Gifts activity: Spin Art. 

“We had some FSU students, interns, that they were doing art on records. Vinyl records,” recalls Proctor. “Like painting and also just different things on there that people, you know, whatever they felt like doing.”  

Then one of the teenagers tried something different.  

“He came up and he put some paint on there and then he threw it like a Frisbee,” said Proctor. “I was like, okay, let me come up with something where people can see it instead of throwing it. They could spin it like spinning records. They’re actually spinning a record. So that’s how we pretty much came up with it.”

Proctor says that imaginative teenager then created three “spin art” records that they ended up selling to people at a restaurant in Railroad Square.   “You don’t have to be a scholar to do, you know, to do art. You don’t have to have a master’s degree in art to do art. You just do what you feel.”

That lesson is exactly what Betty Proctor has done with her life.  Betty’s love for her daughter not only led her to create a business, but also created opportunities for all types of people to find and express their own unique voice.

Producer’s Inside Look

By Freddie Hall

Woman and man stand next to each other. Man holds a record with paint on it.
Betty Proctor and I pose for the camera with a piece of Spin Art that I created.
red, blue, black and green paint cover a record.  A golf tee sits next to it.
Close up look at my art right after I finished spinning the record.

The moment you take your first step into Obsession’s Gift shop you are instantly hit with the scent of paint along with the view of all the colors around you. The creativity that drips from the place is empowering and strong. Not long after you take it all in you are greeted warmly by the owner, Betty Proctor. She has this wonderful process to help you create your own art with a particular, and literal, spin to it. It’s where you let your ideas fly in the form of paint.

Betty introduced me to the process of “spin art” by making sure I had on a poncho that covered me from my head to my feet.  She let me pick out my favorite colors to use (blue and black) and I made a random design on a vinyl record. Next, we put a golf tee through the record and I used all my strength to rotate the disk as fast as possible. The paint not only flew but started to shape into something unique. Something that could only be called mine. This special art experience Betty created for everyone in our community is very self-expressive. In the short time it took me to spin this record, I felt connected to a piece of art that spoke to me. It made me feel great. That is what Betty Proctor does well: she helps people find their creative voice.

A man holding a camera
Alexander Campbell
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Alexander Campbell is a Camera Technician and Graphic Designer for WFSU Public Media. His responsibilities include operating studio and field cameras for live, remote, and prerecorded television and digital productions. Alexander also creates original graphics and animations for many of these projects. He serves as one of the producers and editors of WFSU’s “Spotlight” digital series.  Alexander is also the Technical Director for many of the in-house video feeds of Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra concerts as well as many of the Florida State University College of Music concerts that are seen online.

Alexander has creative, design, technical, and live on-air experience that is constantly growing. He believes in creating compelling, timely work that pushes his skills and expands his knowledge.

Freddie Hall is a camera technician and photographer for WFSU Public Media. He's helped produce a digital series called Spotlight, which shines a light on local artistic and musical talent. Freddie earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Florida State University and an Associate of Arts degree from Tallahassee Community College. As a kid, Freddie always loved movies and TV shows, as well as discovering how they are made. While attending Florida State University, Freddie interned with the Red Hills Motion Picture Releasing Company as part of FSU's Torchlight Program. This is where his love for production and writing began. Freddie’s work at WFSU has helped make those dreams come to life.

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Suzanne Smith is Executive Producer for Television at WFSU Public Media. She oversees the production of local programs at WFSU, is host of WFSU Local Routes, and a regular content contributor.

Suzanne’s love for PBS began early with programs like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and continues to this day. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri with minors in political science and history. She also received a Master of Arts in Mass Communication from the University of Florida.

Suzanne spent many years working in commercial news as Producer and Executive Producer in cities throughout the country before coming to WFSU in 2003. She is a past chair of the National Educational Telecommunications Association’s Content Peer Learning Community and a member of Public Media Women in Leadership organization.

In her free time, Suzanne enjoys spending time with family, reading, watching television, and exploring our community.